Public Health Reports 2 More COVID-19 Deaths, Says Many Recent Cases Linked to Gatherings, Parties

Two more COVID-19-related deaths were reported Friday in Santa Barbara County after what Supervisor Gregg Hart called “another very difficult week.”

At the latest briefing, public health officials said the county has 75 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, including 23 people in intensive care units, which is a 25 percent increase in the past week. 

“Positive COVID-19 cases are rising significantly across all parts of Santa Barbara County, California and the nation,” Hart said. 

Because of the increase in local COVID-19 patients, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital decided to reduce the number of elective procedures by half starting Monday.

“This will ensure that we can provide lifesaving care for the predicted surge of COVID-positive cases while still safely caring for patients who require emergency and essential care for non-COVID conditions,” Ron Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health, said in a statement Friday.

Local hospitals previously postponed elective procedures and surgeries from mid-March until May.

Intensive care units across the county are collectively 56 percent full, including COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. That is concerning because hospitalized COVID-19 patients can require intensive care with little warning, she said. 

The two deaths reported Friday were Santa Maria residents in their 70s who lived in skilled nursing facilities experiencing outbreaks, she said. At least one of the people lived in the Country Oaks Care Center, where 10 other residents have died in the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Do-Reynoso reported 75 more COVID-19 cases on Friday, and said that contact tracing investigations have linked recent cases, since July 1, to close contact exposures at family gatherings, Father’s Day gatherings, Fourth of July parties, funeral services, church services, jail and bars. 

“You must assume that everyone you come into contact with may be infectious,” she said.

Do-Reynoso urged everyone to not become complacent, telling people to keep social distancing, wearing face coverings, disinfecting surfaces and washing hands frequently. 

“I’m taking this seriously and paying special attention to the details again because it’s our best, and frankly, only defense,” Hart said.

Nick Clay, director of the County Emergency Medical Services Agency, said the large demand for COVID-19 testing at the state-run community testing sites means the facilities are being booked to capacity. There has been a trend of missed appointments, and he asked people to cancel their appointments if they cannot make it, so someone else can get the testing slot. 

Santa Barbara County is now asking community members to request a test through these state-run facilities only if they have symptoms or an exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

“We adjusted our messaging several weeks ago from a ‘want to get tested’ to a ‘need to get tested’ message,” Clay said. 

Labs are overwhelmed with the increased demand for testing, and test results are taking up to a week, according to the Public Health Department. 

The number of tests administered in the county has more than doubled from what it was a month ago, said Dr. Stewart Comer, who heads the county’s public health laboratory. The county had conducted 54,000 tests as of Friday, he said.

Hart said the county will continue to use an educational approach to get compliance with public health orders, including the face coverings mandate. 

Although he said that ticketing individual citizens who do not wear face coverings would be too hard to enforce, public health officials will continue to message, explain and urge residents to wear masks to “take care of all of us together.”

He also said the county is developing cease-and-desist letters as a way to address noncompliance by businesses who are “repeat offenders” violating public health orders.  

“We are not ultimately going to enforce our way out of this problem. We’re going to encourage people to do the right thing,” Hart said. “I strongly believe we’re all going to get through this together by modeling proper behavior and setting the best possible example. We will be facing this pandemic for a longer period of time than we all initially hoped. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and perhaps even an ultra-marathon.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.